Governor Ron DeSantis releases list of 14 target school boards in 2024

On Feb. 21, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) released a list of school board incumbents he hopes to see defeated in the 2024 elections. DeSantis made the announcement following a meeting with state House of Representatives Speaker Paul Renner (R), Moms for Liberty co-founders Tina Descovich and Tiffany Justice, and Florida Republican Party Chair Christian Ziegler. 

The list includes districts in the counties of Sarasota, Hillsborough, Duval, Brevard, Miami-Dade, Volusia, and Indian River—districts DeSantis has brought up in the past.  

DeSantis endorsed 34 candidates in 2022. Twenty-nine of those candidates won their elections. In the August 2022 primaries, DeSantis-backed candidates succeeded in shifting the balance of power from liberal to conservative in several districts, including Miami-Dade and Sarasota. In Sarasota County, Tom Edwards was left as the remaining Democrat on the board. 

In Florida, each county is a school district. Florida holds nonpartisan school board elections in even-numbered years. Primary candidates can win outright if they receive more than a simple majority of the vote. 

DeSantis said the targeted incumbents “do not protect parental rights and have failed to protect students from woke ideologies.”

Edwards is one of the incumbents on DeSantis’ 2024 list. Edwards said, “I appreciate the spotlight that the governor is giving me for my good governance, and for my quality School Board work for the students and my community.”

As school board elections have increasingly reflected national partisan concerns, they’ve also attracted the attention of statewide officials and candidates, and national organizations. That includes Moms for Liberty, which began in Florida but endorses school board candidates across the country. The group describes itself as an organization for “all that have a desire to stand up for parental rights at all levels of government” and has generally backed candidates affiliated with the Republican Party. 

National organizations, like Run For Something, have also backed Democratic school board candidates. Run for Something describes itself as “recruiting and supporting young progressives,” and helped elect Brevard School Board member Jennifer Jenkins and Miami-Dade County Public Schools school board member Luisa Santos—both of whom are on DeSantis’ 2024 list.   

Incumbent governors like DeSantis don’t usually get involved in local school board elections. But in 2022, we tracked seven state executive officials and candidates—including two incumbent governors—in four states who endorsed candidates running for seats in school districts within Ballotpedia’s coverage scope. That scope has traditionally included all school districts in the 100 largest cities by population and the 200 largest school districts by student enrollment. Those officials included DeSantis and his gubernatorial Democratic candidate, Charlie Crist, as well as Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake (R). The seven officials and candidates endorsed 110 candidates, 64 of whom won their elections. 

Recently, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) said he was working with the Illinois Democratic Party to counter local Republican Party committees and national organizations working to elect school board candidates in the state’s upcoming elections. Illinois Democratic Party executive director Ben Hardin said, “We aren’t going to let these extremist groups get away with pushing their agendas.” In a move similar to DeSantis’, the Illinois Democratic Party is planning to release a list of over 100 candidates it opposes. 

Illinois’ school board elections are April 4.